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Police - Step Away from the Chess Table!

Police - Step Away from the Chess Table!

Dec 29, 2010, 8:54 PM 3

November 17, New York Times

‘Police! Step Away From the Chess Table’

Wherever you find yourself in New York City, there is probably an outdoor chess table nearby. According to the parks department, there are more than 2,000 public chess or checkers tables spread among 536 parks, offering the perfect spot to sacrifice a queen or promote a pawn.Unless, apparently, the chess tables are in a playground.

Seven chess players in Upper Manhattan found this out the hard way, when police officers approached them at the stone chess tables in Inwood Hill Park and issued them summonses for failure to comply with signs.

The tables are behind the gates of the park’s Emerson Playground, which the signs in question state is off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors.  That is different.  Most places where children about want responsible adult supervision. 

Similar signs are posted at most if not all parks department playgrounds to deter what a parks official called “inappropriate adult use of space designated specifically for children.”  Wow.  Arrested for playing chess in a park - I would guess Frisbee would be OK.

But given that the overwhelming majority of users of public chess boards are adults and what seems to be the generally nonthreatening nature of the chess players, members of the Inwood Hill Seven wondered about the logic behind the crackdown. I do to.  Doesn't NY have enough REAL crime to focus on?

“What is so harmful with chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 49, a homeless man who said he and four other men were playing at the tables around lunchtime when three police cruisers drove into the park. “It’s a quiet game, but it still disturbs the peace.”  That is what he said - a perfect oxymoron about police action by a homeless man.

Mr. Harrison, a white-bearded man with a personality reminiscent of Santa Claus, said he began playing chess in the park two years ago after a neighborhood resident who saw him playing in the 207th Street subway station invited him to come to the park to teach the game to children.

Now wait a minute!  He was invited by adults?  This gets more bizarre.

“From what I know, chess is accepted as good culture in every culture,” he said. “We drink jasmine tea and have some muffins, nothing decadent.” The police, he said, “rolled up on us like we were big-time drug dealers.” The tables are separated from the rest of the play area by a fence. Mr. Harrison said there were no children present at the time.

A fence separates them and no kids around.  Charged with illegal possession of tea and muffins.  I laughed.

The seven were charged with violating a provision of parks regulation 1-03 formally known as “Failure to Comply With Directions of Police Officers, Urban Park Rangers, Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers, or Other Department Employees, or Park Signs.” It carries a $50 fine. They must go to court on the matter on or before Dec. 28.

Since this was first written about, 5 have agree to a plea bargain of all charges being dropped if they stay clean for 6 months.  2 have decided to fight it out in court.

While the park does have its share of drug dealing and other illicit activity, supporters of the chess players say that the police are going after the wrong people.

“This incident is an embarrassment to the officers from the 34th Precinct who felt that it was necessary to use their badge and authority to issue such a random summons,” Joanna Johnston, who said that her 7-year-old son learned to play chess from the men in the playground, wrote in a letter to the police and the mayor.

But the 34th Precinct’s commanding officer, Capt. Jose Navarro, told DNAInfo that he had reviewed the summonses and stood by them. And a police spokesman said that the summonses were part of a larger campaign to clean up the park, driven by complaints from residents about crime.

“There’s been an effort over time to address these concerns, and a lot of it begins with very simple innocuous violations such as this,” the spokesman said.  Yeah, worry about chess players rather than drug dealers.

Mr. Harrison said that none of the chess players had returned to the playground since the incident. “We’re not looking for trouble,” he said. “We’re not lawbreakers.”

Jeez - Chess, the perfect game, the game of kings, the intellectually perfect game.  Lets crack down on them.  In other parks for adults, gambling and drug use could be openly used.

I had a friend of mine who for a short time was homeless and living in his car.  It snowed heavily and there was no way for him to get his car out.  Someone two blocks down said he had been living in his car in the same spot for 4 months (not true).  Police broke his windshield, hauled him off to jail for violating the city "camping law" (a law designed to keep inlaws, friends, etc from living in trailers in back yards in the city.

I worked as a lead therapist for the city juvenile program at the time.  Since he knew me and trusted me and I was his therapist I got him to accept a low misdemeanor and time served.  He was suicidal after all this so I got him some help.  He is living on disability and happy today.

Everyone in that courtroom thanked me.  The judge, the ADA, and the public defender.  Everyone thought the police had gone overboard.  A man down on his luck, with NO RECORD gets manhandled.  He is fine know because common logic prevailed in the courtroom (the police officers did not like it).

Time for adult citizens and police officers to find some of that common sense.  Simply asking these adults to explain themselves and ask them to leave would have worked.  $50 fine for the homeless for playing chess.   Nothing like the life and the pursuit of happiness.  And yes, before anyone thinks I am an idiot, I have kids.  

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